That’s A Wrap: James Blackmon Jr.

  • 04/01/2016 11:02 am in

Welcome to “That’s A Wrap,” our player-by-player recap of the 2015-2016 Indiana Hoosiers. Today: James Blackmon Jr. 

Blackmon Jr. (13 games): 15.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 60.2% eFG, 85.2% FT, 46.3 3PFG% in 24.5 minutes per game.

In a non-contact drill during practice on Monday, Dec. 28, James Blackmon Jr. suffered an injury that ended his sophomore season.

Although the extent of the damage wasn’t known until several days after the injury occurred and some held out hope that it would be a minor setback, Indiana announced on Jan. 5 that he would have surgery.

“After thorough testing and evaluation, it has been determined that the best solution for James Blackmon Jr., and his immediate and long-term health, is to undergo surgery on his right knee this afternoon that he injured last week in practice,” an Indiana release said on that Tuesday afternoon.

At the time of the injury, Blackmon Jr. had been off to a very good start to the season offensively. He was shooting better than 46 percent on 3s and averaging 15.8 points per game, second on the team.

But as the Hoosiers adjusted to life without him and started conference play 7-0, the narrative by some in the media shifted to a notion that IU was better off without its star sophomore. Blackmon Jr., maligned for his defense as a freshman and through 13 games as a sophomore, could only sit and watch as his teammates rebounded from a tough start to win the Big Ten outright and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

The reality, however, is that while Indiana was a different team without Blackmon Jr., it’s not fair to say they were better off. Losing Blackmon Jr. forced other perimeter players into more defined roles and increased the minutes of OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, but it also removed a lethal scorer from the rotation. And in different situations throughout the season when Indiana went through stretches where it couldn’t store, it certainly could have used Blackmon Jr.

Indiana’s defense as a team was poor through 13 non-conference games, but it didn’t magically change because of one player being removed from the rotation.

On Thursday’s Podcast on the Brink interview with Nick Zeisloft, the outgoing senior offered his rationale for the defensive improvement coming when it did.

“Coach (Rob) Judson really took a hold of the defensive side of the game for us,” Zeisloft explained. “We started that in June. It was only a matter of time for it to pay off for all of us. We were doing basically defensive drills, just the fundamentals that might seem boring, but it paid off down the stretch. We all started getting on the same page and staying connected.”

To Blackmon Jr.’s credit, he didn’t seem to let any of the negativity stop him from being a good teammate. He was engaged on the bench and in the middle of the celebrations following several key wins. And when there was speculation late in the season that he would leave the program, he quickly shot down the rumors with a statement.

In the aftermath of IU’s season ending loss to UNC, Blackmon Jr. said he was already looking forward to growing into a leader for the Hoosiers next season.

Bottom Line: It’s never easy for any player to lose a season due to injury, but in Blackmon Jr.’s case, it was especially difficult given the fact he has aspirations of playing professionally. As a junior, he’ll have to come back from his second major knee injury and third surgery, which won’t be easy to do. However, he said said recently that his rehab is ahead of schedule and heading into next season, Indiana will need an engaged and healthy Blackmon Jr. to contend in the Big Ten again. His defense is a clear area where he needs to improve, but given the fact that the Hoosiers have come a long way on that end over the last 12 months, look for Blackmon Jr. to embrace the challenge.

Quotable: “It’s (the injury) just hit me the hardest because it’s my college career. Sophomore season, trying to have a big year. So it’s probably the hardest one for me.” – Blackmon Jr. prior to Indiana’s NCAA tournament opener against Chattanooga.

Previously: OG AnunobyJuwan Morgan, Thomas Bryant, Harrison Niego

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  • Hoosierkamp

    No doubt, regardless of anything in 2015-16……. JBJ is pivotal to 2016-17. RJ and JBJ are a great 1-2 guard combo. If JBJ can defend a little better, he will be so important to them winning.

    I think this team will be very good defensively with OG, Davis, JM, RJ, CH etc…… And hopefully TB and TW too, but who knows. But I think we will defend really well…… We need JBJ to make the offense go as he will be the primary option quite a bit

  • BL

    If JBJ is going to become the player he and his fans want to see, he has to return to full health. If you watch film from his freshman season and compare that to film this year, you’ll see a serious drop off in athleticism; I mean, I forgot how athletic he was. The injury he suffered this past offseason clearly was affecting his play this year. Guessing it was the same knee that ultimately required season ending surgery.

    Two things I’d like to see from JBJ next year: cut down on the TO’s and play fundamentally good defense like your hair is on fire. JBJ’s offense could be a huge shot in the arm for next year’s team but like TW, he produces more TO’s than assists. Regarding defense, it’s all about effort and applying the fundamentals Coach Judson is teaching in practice. If NZ can improve on defense so can JBJ. If I’m Coach, I hammer down on TO’s and D; you don’t show improvement, you don’t play.

    If JBJ returns FULLY HEALTHY and commits to playing the right way, he could easily be a candidate for BIG first team. Also, if he gets to play in a 2-guard line-up with TB, OG and DD backing him up, guessing his D will look better as did YF’s, RJ’s and NZ’s. Finally, I’m really pulling for JBJ. Like TW, I think he’s a great teammate.

  • Crimson&CremeFraiche

    He will huge for us next season. Get healthy and fill it up next year James!

  • kennygeorge

    Life is full of what ifs. I, for one, will look forward to his return the Hoosier shootin’ and defendin’ squad. things will be better.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    Get healthy JBJ we need you

  • Arch Puddington

    “If NZ can improve on defense so can JBJ”

    Exactly right. NZ was by no means elite, but he went from being a frequent liability to being a solid team defender. If JBJ makes that same jump, he becomes the all-america candidate we all thought he would be, and we become a much better team.

  • BL

    I know the following is off topic but the Freddie McSwain (aka McFly per Ole Man) conversation is now falling out of sight.

    Following video from the hudl site is definitely worth watching: athlete/4756566/highlights/335041518

    I know he’s not playing against D1 competition but this kid looks special. I hope we land him. Big time athlete and listed at 220 on a couple sites (guessing that may be a bit inflated). Much more developed b-ball skills than I expected after simply reading the articles. Good handles and pretty darn nice stroke. Honestly, like OG, Coach may have found another big time sleeper. That would be so cool. Hey, last banner was hung in large part due to a transfer from a CC.

  • BL

    Yes, even if JBJ simply replaces NZ it’s a huge win. As good a shooter, better athlete and we shouldn’t forget, really good rebounder from the guard position.

  • Hoosier in Tx

    I am all for JBJ in coming back, his scoring & rebounding is a big plus for IU… improve the percentages and he is a 20+ night guy for IU. He can improve his defense with a few tweaks. Here are my suggestions just based on the picture of him in this article. First, you do not plan defense with feet flat on the court, legs straight, and your uppper body leaning forward…. that is bad defense postion. His first reaction to anything the guy dribbling the balll will be is bend his knees, get to the balls of his feet, and then straighen up…..then he can move left or right. By the time he does this the dribbler is around him with JBJ chasing. If he starts in good defensive position he frist reactive will be in front of the dribbler….. Fractions of a second is the difference between a good and bad defense, this move alone will cut his reaction time down enough to react to almost everyone he will guard.

    Great Defense is all about the first reaction you have…. make it from the proper position is the first step…..

    They say never complain unless you have a fix for the issue…. above is my quick and easy fix.

    TB please stay, 3 & 4 year players are how you will when championships… not 1 & done…. but I do understand about the money and the risks of injuries…. get insurance on yourself and play for IU th next two years…. you’ll go down in IU history bringing a 6th banner!!!!!

    TW, same for you, get insurance on yourself and play for IU th next year…. you’ll go down in IU history bringing a 6th banner!!!!!

  • Hardwood83

    Defense (like rebounding) is largely about ‘want to’. Sure there is technique and athleticism matters, but attitude is a huge part of it. Let’s hope JBJ develops a real hunger over the next few mos.

  • Fivelefts

    I wish JBJ much success next season! With that being said, I hope CTC works Cujo out really well in the summer, because I don’t think JBJ’s legs are going to hold up! Especially if the conference is as physical as it was this past year..I hope I’m wrong!

  • BL

    Went back and watched the first half of the Duke game to see JBJ against a ranked team. You can watch the game on youtube: watch?v=gQdcJEMp7Qg So easy to forget how much potential he has and this defensive thing is way overrated. He was outstanding, at least in the first half. Funny, we were leading and looking good with 7:30 to go in the first half. Then we had a bout of bad Troy and TB just wasn’t ready for prime time at that point in his freshman year. Couldn’t score, couldn’t rebound, couldn’t defend (his man nor any idea how to help). Makes you realize how good a job our coaching staff did with him. As bad as we eventually got beat, you could see our team’s potential. Man, sure wish JBJ could have returned later in the season after we figured out what we had with OG and JM. Looking forward to seeing JBJ in a cream and crimson uniform again.

  • BL

    Yeah, they’ve got to put some muscle on that kid. Expecting him to be a good one.

  • Chi-Town Hoosier

    Yes – the stat that jumped out to me was the 4.2 rebs per game…solid.

  • I argued against the “addition by subtraction” argument from the very beginning. Never could accept that losing a player of JBJ’s quality could be a net positive. The bit about Coach Judson taking over is interesting, given that a number of people were saying last year they’d like to see CTC bring in a defensive expert as an assistant coach–I don’t know if Judson is new or not, but it sounds like his role is expanded if he’s not.

    I think JBJ will play better defense next year, and we’ll be glad for his scoring ability.

  • marcusgresham

    Here is your daily dose of optimism in regards to Blackmon’s return next year:
    When he is on, he is the best shooter on the roster (barring Gelon being a marvel.) That was Yogi this season, and because of that there were times he was taken off the ball. Newkirk, Johnson, and Jones (and Niego) should be sufficient enough ballhandlers to eliminate the need to put Blackmon at the point–the fact that he isn’t a great threat to break anyone down off the dribble is another reason he doesn’t need to be out front with the ball–and he can, for lack of a better description, be a sort-of Zeisloft-on-steroids. James is more athletic than Nick and a better shooter off the move, though.
    As much as we all (and I am as guilty as anyone,) cracked on his defense, I think what he needs to do is simply put more stock into staying in front of his man instead of going for the swipe. That’s not a change in effort or ability, simply in mindset.

  • marcusgresham

    OG has that freakish Pippen/Rodman/Bowen ability to guard ANY position. The thing about that that will make you chub up with excitement is that he’s bigger than all those guys, and he isn’t even 20 yet.

  • marcusgresham

    “If NZ can improve on defense so can JBJ.”
    I know I said that a month or two ago…lucky I didn’t trademark it or I’d charge you.

  • marcusgresham

    Two juco transfers!

  • BL

    He also has a lot more skill on the offensive end. Been watching more of his old tapes. If the staff stresses offensive skill sharpening in OG’s offseason workouts and Coach runs a reasonable % of the offense through him, kid is going to shock fans with his offensive game just like he did with his defense.

  • BL

    C’mon Marcus, you can recall things from a month ago? Really? 🙂

  • BL

    Hell, forgot about DG.

  • BL

    Funny, in that Duke first half, JBJ did it all. Played good D including picking Ingram’s pocket, handled the ball, took guys off the dribble and scored at the rim, recall one really nice assist, knocked down three’s, rebounded. I mean, honestly, I was like I just don’t remember him being this good. Thinking back, our team defense was so bad early on, I think fans found scapegoats any chance they could. Not saying JBJ can’t improve defensively but I doubt he deserved the obvious piling on. Also, like Troy, we could have probably used the good/bad labels with JBJ as well. Essentially, first half of the Duke game was really “good JBJ”. Anyway, excited to re-aquaint myself with JBJ’s potential.

  • I watched a bit as well, and I agree. The narrative around JBJ has been vastly inflated. During that first half, I saw a couple of times when other players (including Yogi) dropped off their guy to help out on someone else, and got burned. It’s precisely the _team_ defense that improved so dramatically, not just that suddenly removing JBJ from the equation was the difference.

  • BL

    Moreover, we really missed his offensive contributions. Feel bad for Yogi that RJ and JBJ didn’t get a shot at helping him chase that banner in his final year at IU. Just certain we’d still be playing.

  • marcusgresham

    He’s a match-up problem for most teams. Dudes his size shouldn’t be able to move like he does. Walk by him, he is thick.

  • BL

    Exactly. With that size and explosiveness, it will be a cryin shame if he doesn’t turn into a beast on the offensive end. Not to go overboard but that combo is what made Big Mac so damn good. OG is almost the exact same size and weight. Train him up and give him the ball Coach.

  • bleeding crimson

    I’m pretty sure his his injury caused many of his lateral mobility movements caused him to not be as good on his D if he was at full strength to perform at such a high level. I will admit he did always seem to let his guy always blow by him but maybe that might have had something to do with it. Regardless we know he can shot the 3 so in my opinion he should be playing the 2 spot period.

  • bleeding crimson

    How tall is he?

  • BL

    6’6 or 6’7 depending on the source.

  • PocketHoosier

    So…here’s the “silver lining” that I’m hoping for. Assume for just a moment that the “Blackmon’s best defensive move is ‘olé!’ ” narrative had legs. Assume for just a moment that the team didn’t necessarily get better by Blackmon going down, but that the season went into emergency mode as soon as it was known that they would not be able to just hand him the ball and pull out conference wins.

    I believe that adversity makes players better or makes them give up. The team absolutely did not give up when the best scoring threat in the Big Ten was relegated to cheerleading duties due to injury. The players dug in their heels, they figured out how to survive without him, and they eventually built a team that could advance.

    2016-17 will come along shortly with no Yogi, no Zeisloft, and maybe no Troy (he’s a second rounder; I understand that he is itching to earn a paycheck, but he’d be such an asset to the Hoosiers next year if he stayed). The top of the roster that finished the season will be gone, but the core will be improved considerably. Barring setbacks and injuries, RoJo and JBJ will make a lethal outside shooting tandem. If either Grant or CuJo makes it into the rotation as a shooter, then guard play should be kept pretty darn high.

    If Bryant returns (*fingers crossed* *please, please, please, please*) then I think when we tip off against Kansas, we will be all-in on “Banner or Bust.” The season naturally has to be played, but I would put our expected 2016-17 roster up against anyone else in the nation going into the season.